Guest Post: On Advocacy in the Church #MormonMeToo

by Anonymous

Recently, our ward executive secretary asked my husband if the Bishop could meet with us at our home. My husband set a time for that evening, and we wondered what the Bishop wanted. Was it a calling? My husband had just been released from one of his callings, but we already held a joint Sunday School teaching calling.

The Bishop arrived and chatted with us for awhile. We aren’t unused to meeting with the Bishop casually. Only a few months ago, I held a leadership calling which required frequent meetings, emails, text messages, and phone calls with the Bishop. It’s not like we didn’t know each other.

After a few minutes of casual conversation, he told us why he wanted to meet with us. The answer surprised and almost floored me. It was my blog. My Bishop had called a private, personal meeting with my husband to talk to us about my blog.

At first I was flattered that he even read my blog. It is not a hugely popular blog, but one that is relatively well read with people who deal with issues similar to my own. It takes into account my Mormon perspective, yes, but I write about things unrelated to Mormon culture and doctrine as well. I had never considered that my blog could land me in a private meeting with the Bishop.

Apparently, the blog post in question was related to my sharing of an experience with #mormonmetoo and the Joseph Bishop case. In it, I briefly and respectfully recounted how I dealt with a case of unwanted advances and comments from a ward member and how, since multiple women from the ward had also had similar experiences, we brought the situation to the attention of our Bishop.

Now, here he was, sitting across from me, telling me that someone had come to him having read my post. According to him, they were concerned about being in his ward, considering how he had handled the situation (which wasn’t terribly, but it was difficult to get the gravity of the situation across to him at the time).

While he did not ask me to take down the post in question, he cautioned me against posting when I was passionate about something and asked that I consider what others might infer from my posts. He gave what appeared to me to be a veiled warning that I be careful about leading others away from the Church and their “eternal salvation” with the things that I write.

After he left, I felt shocked and confused. What had just happened? I, and many other women (and youth) in our ward, had negative experiences with a man bordering on sexual harassment, and now I was being rebuked and cautioned by the Bishop for publicly reporting it.

Was I being told, in a roundabout way, that if I continued to post in such a vein, I was in danger of Church disciple and potentially excommunication? Did I need to fear for my Church membership because I posted a #mormonmetoo experience?

It all seemed so ludicrous, and as I pondered further, I strongly felt for the individual who came to him asking about my post. This person had the right to make her comments as well. She—or he—deserves to be led by someone who is proactively and eagerly seeking to make women and children feel safe from abuse and harassment, instead of trying to minimize damage and keep secrets.

Further, I couldn’t help but feel that I was being called out for making him “look bad.” Here I was, being further victimized by the person who should be caring for my spiritual welfare. Instead of being concerned about me, asking how I felt about this situation and how I was doing spiritually, I was being treated as a threat and a potential enemy to “the Church.”

For some reason, the experience made me reflect on Christ’s experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, following his Intercessory Prayer.

In John 18, it states, “Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. […] Then Simon Peter, having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear. […] Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (verses 3, 10-11) In Luke 22:51, it records that Jesus then “touched his ear, and healed him.”

Even when Christ was being falsely accused and arrested, He still took the time to heal one of those who had come to take Him. He still cared about people and their welfare, even when they were coming to betray and crucify Him.

On another note, Christ nonviolently accepted those false accusations, knowing that from this cruel, unfair, and inhumane experience would come greater—even the greatest—good.

As I continued to think about this experience I had with the Bishop, an answer came to me in from the story of Esther and Mordecai. When the Jews were threatened with a decree of death, Mordecai pled for Esther to talk to the king, despite the fact that doing so might lead to her own death. Mordecai’s question for Esther came clearly to me, “who knowest whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14)

Many of us are at a crossroads, and many of those crossroads are different and unique to us and our circumstances. Some of us wonder if we should continue in the Church, despite seemingly horrible allegations and revelations about Church leaders or policies. Others wonder how outspoken we should or can be while still remaining active.

A few months ago when I embarked on a path of public advocacy for another cause, I had the distinct feeling that I had set a ball rolling and wasn’t sure where that ball would end up or take me. I simply knew I had started a journey that I needed to go on, regardless of where it finished.

I still do not know what mountain I will die on, so to speak, but if it is the mountain of that particular advocacy or of protecting and standing up for victims of sexual harassment and abuse, I will say as Esther did, “if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16).

Of course, my hope is that I—and none of us—need to perish on these mountains. I hope for a Church that embraces the gospel of Christ’s love—the Christ who healed the ear of a man who came to arrest Him.

I hope for a community where the choice is not “either/or.” I long to build and be a part of that community, one where our passions and voices are honored, where leadership asks us how they can help rather than trying to silence our cries. If this Church community doesn’t yet exist, I hope that we can build it together without being warned and rebuked. I believe that it is the community Christ wants for us, and I hope I’m not wrong.

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9 Responses

  1. Wendy says:

    Thank you for your advocacy and for sharing your recent experience. I feel similarly as I’m on my advocacy journey. You beautifully expressed what’s been on my heart for many months. Thank you for speaking to my heart.

  2. Kristine A says:

    In my opinion one of the most damaging things to justice in #mormonmetoo is the part in the church handbook indicates that you can be excommunicated for “apostasy” for merely not following the counsel of your local leaders. Good luck 💚

  3. CS Eric says:

    It is ironic to me that one of the ways members can make the Church “look bad” is to let people know how leadership, who should know (and do) better, treat people who are vulnerable. I had a branch president who got mad at me for knowing the scriptures better than he did when I pointed out that Christ healed people first, and only after that did he tell them to “go and sin no more.”

    • JNB says:

      Eric, I had this same experience when I was a new Relief Society president and struggling with a branch president who was refusing to feed our poor until after they started living certain commandments. “Go to their home and teach them a chastity lesson,” he’d tell me, or a Word of Wisdom lesson, etc, and only then would he discuss signing the food orders. So I pointed out that Christ fed loaves and fishes to the masses even during the teaching process–He didn’t tell them that they could only be fed *after* they heard Him teach and started living His teachings perfectly. Branch President warned me that trying to give counsel to a priesthood head about priesthood matters was to stand on very dangerous ground, so I didn’t do it again. A lot of people went hungry on my watch. It haunts me to this day.

  4. Rill says:

    I love your points about Esther. Thank you. <3

  5. And thus we see why some victims don’t speak out.

    This angers me. I wonder if the bishop had a doctrinal justification for his advice to her.

  6. Lynn says:

    This rings of too much truth; I agonize alongside you after experiencing something similar in my own branch! I received a strongly worded warning about my own membership after I kept arranging visiting teaching according to the dictates of the spirit and the needs/requests of my sisters instead of the dictates of an extremely controlling/powertripping branch president when I was Relief Society president–in the end, we packed up our family and moved outside the boundaries rather than keep the fate of our family’s eternal bonds in the hands of somebody so mercurial. I pray that this ends well for you!

  7. Ziff says:

    Yikes! I’m sorry, Anonymous. This is awful that your bishop was more concerned with him or the Church looking bad because you reported something than with the actual harassment itself that you and others experienced. Unfortunately, it seems like this is the message from the top in the Joseph Bishop case: the abuse and coverup are seen as minor in comparison with people committing the unpardonable sin of daring to bring up Bishop’s and the Church’s misdeeds in public.

  8. JNB says:

    I am so sorry that this happened. I am facing something similar because I advocated too much for youth safety in my branch. I am so sorry that leaders are allowed to treat the sisters of the church this way unchecked!

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